Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Riders

riders flashfiction prompt copyright KS Brooks theodore roosevelt national park north dakota june 2001
Photo copyright K. S. Brooks. Do not use without attribution.

Use the photograph above as the inspiration for your flash fiction story. Write whatever comes to mind (no sexual, political, or religious stories, jokes, or commentary, please) and after you PROOFREAD it, submit it as your entry in the comments section below. There will be no written prompt.

Welcome to the Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Challenge. In 250 words or less, write a story incorporating the elements in the picture at left. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until Tuesday at 5:00 PM Pacific Time. No political or religious entries, please. Need help getting started? Read this article on how to write flash fiction.

On Wednesday afternoon, we will open voting to the public with an online poll so they may choose the winner. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday. On Saturday morning, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature.

Once a month, the admins will announce the Editors’ Choice winners. Those stories will be featured in an anthology like this one. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

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17 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Riders”

  1. What I did on my Summer Vacation
    by JPMarentay

    I was zoned in the beginning, disappointed in the family vacation choice. All my friends were going to camp and I was stuck here with Mom and Dad riding across an ‘unbelievable’ verdant green landscape.

    The horse stumbled a bit and it brought me back to reality. The guide was droning on in kind of a sing song voice. “Be careful of all these plants. We’ve identified 30 different species of lowland grass here, but not one so far has been man-eating…YET!”

    Pure corn, but I was here and it was paid for, so I there you go.

    “That’s no house cat over there. Mountain Lions can jump over 20 feet, and we must be at least, well… 19 feet away! Don’t worry, he’ll jump right over us.”


    “Since we are in an area filled with rare western foliage, I’d like to take a moment to point out some of the plants to you. There’s one, there’s one…”


    “There’s that lost wagon train we’ve been looking for. Obviously mixed up in some kind of native uprising. That arrow seems to be getting it’s point across, and I’m sure that guy on the bottom will get the point in the end!”

    Har Har.

    “And now, probably the most dangerous part of our journey- the return to civilization! I certainly hope you’ve enjoyed our trail ride”

    The hologram faded.

    “Thank you for visiting Lunar Disney, or as we call it, work.”

    At least at camp, everything was real.

  2. The higher they climbed, the colder it got. There, at the top of the hill, was the Hangman’s Tree, it’s leafless branches reaching out, welcoming it’s next decoration.

    Katie, the favorite of all his horses, snorted and stopped. “That’s okay, ole girl,” he whispered, patting her mane. “We’ll get out of this okay,” and gently spurred her along. He could hear the three-man posse behind arguing who would get the reward.

    As they neared the tree, he noticed the familiar colors of a horse by the bushes uphill. A gloved hand reached up and waved quickly. He nodded recognition.

    “When you get to the tree,” one of the followers called out, “wait ‘til we get the rope ‘round your neck.”

    “Don’t do anything foolish or we’ d just as soon shoot than hang you,” another voice threatened. “We’d get the reward either way.”

    He smiled as he heard the three rapid shots and the thuds of bodies hitting the ground.

    “Hallelujah,” he sang out. “Thanks. Come on. We’re just in time to rob the train comin’ round the bend.” He reached over and winked at Katie. “Toldja we’d make it.”

    As the train huffed and puffed uphill into view, Jesse, and his brother, Frank, galloped down to board it.

  3. “What do we do with them if we catch them?”
    “You mean when. We saw them run into the trees.”
    “So let’s ride in and get them.”
    “They could be drug dealers and murderers.”
    “It was a family! Parents and three little children.”
    “If the immigration agents did their job we wouldn’t be out here.”
    “Besides, they could starve out here. Or die of thirst. Or the heat.”
    “Yeah, we could be saving their lives.”
    “Hey! Look! Here comes the man carrying a little boy.”
    “Do you understand what he’s saying?”
    “Hell, no. He’s screaming and crying and talking way too fast.”
    “I don’t need to know what he’s saying. That kid’s been snakebit.”
    “Think it was a rattler?”
    “His father must think so, way he’s carrying on.”
    “You got any medicine?”
    “Anti-venom? Yeah, right.”
    “What do we do?”
    “We got to get that kid to a hospital.”
    “Really? Why should they get to use our medical system for free, while we got to pay for it.”
    “So we just let him die?”
    “They got no business sneaking in here.”
    “So what do you propose we do?”
    “Ride off. Then report to immigration we saw a family of four hiding in these trees.”
    “But there’s five of them.”
    “That kid really looks bad. He’s not going to make it.”
    The four horsemen galloped away, leaving the man screaming after them with his dying son in his arms.
    “I’ll be glad when we get that wall up.”

  4. “I see three people on horses.”
    “The one in the front…that’s Blair.”
    “How can you tell, you can’t see his face?”
    “Trust me, I would know that cocky, thieving, liar anywhere.”
    Her friend grabbed the binoculars, “Still fuzzy, but I think you’re right. Why do you think he resurfaced now?”
    “Who knows? Who cares?”
    “He’s taking a big chance coming back.”
    “Maybe he ran out of money. Maybe she left him. Maybe he finally developed a conscious. Doesn’t matter.”
    “Are you really going to turn him in?”
    “Do you still love him?”
    There was a long silence. “The love was replaced by anger. Then there was numbness. Now all I want is justice.”
    “Are you sure it’s not revenge you’re after?”
    “There will be a bit of satisfaction seeing him go to jail. But he hurt a lot of people when he stole that money and took off.”
    “And he hurt you when he took off.”
    “Yeah, but their retirement funds and college savings are a little more important than my hurt feelings. Hopefully some of them will be able to get their money back.”
    They sat in silence a few moments.
    “It’s time to make the call.”

  5. Kungle Is Back!

    By Annette Rey

    Alert! Alert!

    From his view high above the dung field, the flying Kungle could see danger approaching his dung-rolling friends. The rain-swelled lake water surged against the dam wall. If the wall failed, the beetles didn’t stand a chance.

    The Rollers couldn’t see above their labors and innocently plodded along. They and the Tunnelers and Dwellers would be extinct if Kungle couldn’t find a way to warn them.

    Since Kungle discovered his wings, other dung beetles called him a “rebel” and an “outlaw” because he had forsaken the worldly pursuits of his kind. No dung building for him. No earthbound restrictions to keep him at antenna level with others. Give him the wind in his wings.

    Using those wings, he began an urgent steep dive to the center of the enclave, circling the piles, buzzing the beetles out of their locked-in focus.

    “Danger! Save yourselves and the others. Tell them, Flood danger! Stretch your back. You can fly! Gather on the mountaintop!”

    Kungle flew in widening circles, buzzing the massive area, spreading the message.

    Before long, the daylight above him turned dark. The sound of thunder filled the air. Was that the dam breaking?

    No. The black clouds were tens of thousands of astonished flyers, their wings beating furiously, joining in the effort to warn the others.

    Because Kungle preferred to soar above the rest, the grateful survivors dubbed him The Watchful Eye.

    Kungle’s thorax swelled with pride.

  6. The posse chased the murderous outlaw gang into the badland canyons. They paused, while Tracker Joe examined the remains of the outlaws last camp site, “It looks like they want us to follow them into the canyon. They didn’t try to hide their hoof prints this time. With all this brush on the trail, we’re to close for my liking. My gut tells me they’re close by, waiting in ambush on the lower trail.”

    The Marshal looked around at all the brush, “Boys, we’re not going to ride into an ambush blind. All this brush gives me an idea, here’s what we’re going to do …”

    Near sunset, in the fading light the posse slowly headed out. About a mile down the trail, shots rang out from the cliffs above. Rifle bullets riddled the bodies of the riders on horseback, stopping the posse dead in their tracks.

    The outlaws fired wildly at the posse, as they raced down to the slumped over bodies to finish them off; only to discover tied to the horses saddles were scarecrows made of brush and blankets.

    Suddenly, from atop the cliff, rifle shots rang out, but this time, it was the posse firing a deluge of bullets down on the outlaws below. They quickly shot down all the outlaws. When it was over, the posse came down from the cliffs. The Martial grinned, “Good job men, now let’s find their horses and pack these desperados back to town.”

  7. The trail was cold, colder than the ice in Dagger’s heart. He persisted in leading his horse up the ridges and through the valleys. The posse followed, their horses exhausted by the four-day search. They blew hot breath through flaring nostrils, a kind of quiet protest. The riders didn’t even have that. Shorty, normally the voice of Dagger’s conscience, had already had his head chewed off for suggesting a short rest. No one else dared protest.

    What were they searching for exactly? An unnaturally broken branch or some clue like an article of the lady’s clothing or a whiff of her perfume? A chill or other unexplainable feeling as they passed through a certain place? Shorty figured they’d find her body before anything else.

    Dagger had a reputation for wooing the ladies—and for scaring them off. What happened to Miss Rebecca was a strong case in both ways. She fell hard and ran away fast. But Dagger had never searched for one before. He had never neglected his horses or men in pursuit of a woman.

    Dagger’s eyes were fixed forward. Rebecca’s sweet nothings had warmed his bed and his blood until she muttered her final sentence. “Callie’s at the willow tree.”

    Callie had been the first woman to love and leave him. She promised that, one day, she’d get word to him on how to find her. Dagger didn’t know where the willow tree was, but no matter what else he did, he was getting his mama back.

  8. “It’s got to be around here someplace.”

    “We’ll find it. Don’t worry.”

    “What if we don’t find it. Then what?”

    “Will you knock it off! We spent sixty bucks to rent these horses. You wanted to ride out in the open, in the fresh air and sunshine, leave civilization behind. You wanted to be like the pioneers. Now all you can do is complain.”

    “Look! Up on top of the hill! What are those things?”

    Darlene sighed heavily. “They’re Indians, waiting to swoop down on us and take our scalps… Betsy, come on! You’re being a big baby. They are just bushes.”

    “You’re sure they’re not people? If they are people they probably know where everything is around here. They’d know how to find it.”

    “No, they are not people. And we’ll find it ourselves. How hard could it be? It’s probably the tallest thing around here, and I know its painted blue.”

    “Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry.”

    “Look!” Darlene stood in the stirrups and pointed to something blue in the trees ahead.

    “Oh, wow! That’s it!” Betsy drove her horse to a gallop.

    Darlene followed close behind till they reached it. Betsy leaped off her horse and disappeared. A few minutes later she emerged from the stinky little shed, smiling.

    “I had no idea being a pioneer was so hard. Imagine! Only one Porta-Potty and not even a place to wash your hands.”

  9. “I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name –”

    “Will you shut up? You know we’re being filmed.”

    After being laid off from their factory jobs, the four friends were trying their luck at reality TV shows. There were two possible programs: one to re-enact the riders of the Pony Express as it traveled the Oregon Trail and another show about four horsemen and their adventures. They weren’t given details but told to go ride the horses through tall brush. Cameras were set up to film this and it would be part of their audition process.

    Frustrated by the lack of details, this southwestern scenery was confusing: they were high in the mesas with few landmarks to guide them.

    “Are you sure this is the right way?” a voice from the rear asked.

    “Yes,” yelled the front rider. “Follow the silver-tipped growth. That’s what we’re doing.”

    “Which job do you think we’ll get? The Oregon job or Acapulco?”

    The leader shrugged. “Hope Acapulco, but either would be fine.”

    The riders daydreamed of stardom. After years of working in a dirty factory, what could be better than being outside, riding a horse through gorgeous scenery?

    When the ride ended, they were told the Pony Express gig was already filled, but they’d be perfect for the four horsemen. They could start immediately.

    Loud whoops and shouts went up. “Four Horsemen of Acapulco, here we come!”

    “Acapulco?” the producer arched an eyebrow. “I said ‘apocalypse,’ you idiot.”

  10. Rosser
    By D. Douglas Mains

    “Only fools need to rely on the strength of beasts,” Rosser said vainly, denying any use for horses.

    To say he earned respect from the town of Ardmore would be untrue; he commanded it, little though he was. Muscle was wasted on trigger-happy gun-slayers; Rosser was small-framed and composed. Shrewd yet kind eyes hooked his enemies; he reeled them in with riddle, and let reason slit their throats. Showdowns amused the brutes on Main Street but he preferred the flickering darts of the candle at the dimmest booth of the Ardmore Parlor.

    Horses were unpredictable, unnecessary, powerful and dangerous; he abhorred them. In fact, he was afraid, though he’d never admit it. But when he found himself stranded in the mountains from a shady deal, he was left vulnerable for lack of mobility and a poor knowledge of the wild. Gaunt and desperate, he trailed a wandering white stallion.

    Reason claims a journey home — laziness, the same, he pondered, though a horse is simultaneously erratic and dominant, proving a risk. Truth, I’d rather die than on nature rely but perhaps nature can serve my need.

    He watched his hand reach for the ashen beast and, feeling the coarse strands of hair run beneath his softened fingers, he recognized his foolish lean. The fervent horse calmed as if to meet him halfway. Indeed, when Rosser mounted, it was a moment he looked back on as the unexpected marriage between Faith and Reason.

    Black on white, he rode, until both turned gray.

  11. Grace

    I remember our first riding lesson. My dad instructed. He said I was a natural, but Grace didn’t get ahold of it at first. We were kids then. Years later, me, Grace, and our friends were at the spot where we first started riding.

    “So, what about it Grace?” I said. “You wanna race to see whose horse is faster?”

    “I’ve gotten better since we were little Trent,” said Grace.

    “Yeah, she has,” said her friend Susie.

    “Is that a yes or no?” I said. I looked at Grace and then at my friend Hunter who was smiling.
    “What’s the matter? You think I can’t beat her?”

    “It ain’t that,” he said. He turned away, still smiling and shaking his head.

    “You’re on,” said Grace. “Where’s the finish line?”

    I pointed to Hunter in the distance. “There.”

    We lined our horses up. Susie raised her hat and lowered it. We took off. I held the reins tightly; the horse’s mane swaying from the speed. We were neck and neck; Hunter getting nearer. From the corner of my eye I could see Grace’s blonde hair flowing in the wind. She had become one with her horse.

    The next thing I saw was the sky. I was on my back. I had fallen off my horse. I heard Hunter say “git up lover boy, lets ride!” Then Grace appeared against the blue sky.

    “Did I win?” I asked.

    “Technically,” said Grace playfully. “But you didn’t exactly cross the finish line.”

  12. They came down from the mountains once a year: the riders.
    From a distance, they appeared as any other rider. Up close, you could see them for what they were. Shadow creatures with misshapen heads, huge eyes, and claws that slashed through flesh and wood alike. The beasts they rode dripped foul saliva from a set of teeth any carnivore would be proud of.
    On that one night, from dusk till dawn, we stayed indoors. For those who remained outdoors after sunset…
    Ghost hunters from the big smoke came to investigate. They parked their van full of high tech gadgets in the main street. They laughed at our tales.
    “Just the wind,” they said. “Just your imagination.” “A trick of the light – or of the dark.”
    We knew better.
    The sun touched the horizon. I bid the ghost hunters farewell and retired to my home. I locked the door, pulled the shutters, switched off every light and huddled under my bed.
    My heart pounded. Soon I realised it wasn’t my heart but the approaching hooves of the beasts. A wind whipped at my door. Footsteps paced the veranda as claws scratched along the wooden façade. Metal cut through the air and bloodcurdling screams melted into the wind.
    Eventually, it was quiet.

    Next morning, there was no sign of the ghost hunters. The high tech gadgets frozen at one minute past sunset. I drove the van to the edge of town, left the keys in the ignition and walked home.

  13. An Inconsequential Quest
    by Jack Spies

    How shall I tell my story. It is a simple story. It is a short story. It has no real beginning and the ending isn’t much more than a mark on a clean slate or a scuff on a polished shoe.

    Imagine, for a moment, seeing a group of three or four, or maybe even eight–mist interferes with direct observation–beings forming a loose confederation for adventure. They gather in pairs, four pairs perhaps, and set out. They have no particular goal or destination, and yet a feeling of purposefulness pervades their company like clouds in a cloudless sky, or cacti on a barren desert.

    They start out in single file. Each group of two following behind another, ascending a trail cut through dense brush. The mist grows as they climb and one of the group, disinterested or inattentive, falls behind.

    The sky above the mist is streaked with blue, and a cool breeze is building in the mountains. The rocks hold their places. An eagle, soaring in an updraft, circles. The mist dissolves leaving nothing but ignorance behind.

    The confederation stops and the pairs break apart. Two new teams of four each are formed. One group is happy to graze on an open patch in the brush. The other gathers sticks and lights a fire. After an interval the pairs form again, and meander back to where they began.

    A new moon is born that night. The stars take their positions, and await the dawn.

  14. Bharatpur had a traditional faith.
    Village chief used to preach, ‘Angelic messengers are coming. They would bring prosperity’
    Over decades came many. Villagers welcomed guests. Most were businessmen, some were explorers. But no angelic messengers!
    Economy deteriorated, but old faith continued.
    Old chief assured all, ‘People, don’t worry. Keep patience. They’ll come. Wait and watch’
    ‘But how many decades more?’ Some aggressive youths protested.
    Impatient immatures were thrown out. They gladly left on their own dream ventures.

    Prosperity remained a distant dream. Still, villagers kept waiting.
    Once fine morning they noticed an advent— a small group of horse riders. Luxurious apparel, majestic appearance and royal attitude. Embodied reflection of good luck, villagers thought, until they took out guns and fired at ground.
    A gang of robbers. Mesmerised by the habitual faith, hundreds of villagers surrendered to few robbers. They forgot to fight back. Dacoits enslaved them all.

    Those native youths who once were thrown out, somehow got the message that their village was under threat. By then they had made good relations with many neighbouring villages. They contacted all. Thousands of people from different villages gathered at hijacked Bharatpur. The robber gang was arrested.

    Bharatpur regained freedom. Youths addressed, ‘Beloved villagers, it’s our hard-earned freedom! Don’t waste a minute. We’ll build a beautiful world by ourselves. No wait, let’s start!’
    Wonderful world was built. Old chief ascertained, ‘All owes to that magic advent!’

  15. They stole the ponies off the McCreedy ranch. A chestnut mare and a gray stallion.

    McCreedy told me when I tracked them I should hang em on the spot.

    A hundred dollar bounty would go a long way.

    “More than enough for two Indians.” McCreedy was standing on his porch when he said that, the late afternoon sun in his eyes, lighting up the hate.

    He knew I’d fought in the Indian Wars. Heard the stories.

    They’d run off from the San Carlos Reservation two days earlier. Walked the thirty-five miles to the McCreedy spread. Most of it open desert. They were both seventeen. He was Yavapai and she was Apache. Word was they were sweethearts. Heading for the border.

    I rode all night and laid up for them, hiding in rocks above Paria Canyon, where the stream runs down to the creek bed.

    They showed up just after sunrise. I could have taken the mare out from under him with my Winchester when they cleared the pinion trees, then gone down and finished him off. She wouldn’t have run. I knew it. I let em come closer.

    They held hands when they watered the horses. Let the animals drink first. The wind was whispering in the cottonwoods but I could hear their voices when they spoke. The tenderness. They kissed before they climbed back in their saddles.

    I watched them ride off, their horses gliding south across the desert floor dancing in the morning sun.

  16. Crossroads in the Valley
    by William Weiss

    The foursome rode on horseback across the valley floor, and death watches.  The Sharps rifle arcs easily to track their progress.  The tired assassin has work to do.

    Targets had taken many forms.  They had worn the gray uniforms of the confederate army.  With the war over, they shared a different mark: a price on their head.

    His sights train on the man leading the group.  He and his family made the mistake of homesteading on the wrong piece of land.  That didn’t fit into a certain rancher’s plans.  The father’s death should send the message.  Its time to move on. 

    Finger tightens on the trigger.  And freezes.

    The hunter knows his prey.  

    Seconds spin out as inner conflict ensues.  The remnants of his conscience scream in protest, locking his finger in place.  This man saved his life.  This man was his former commanding officer.  Little wonder the rancher hired a professional to do his dirty work.

    A gun jabs at the base of his skull.  

    His “employer” was a very cautious fellow and insisted on witnessing the business first hand.  Now he grew impatient.

    “Pull yours, or I pull mine,” he hissed.

    Could he disarm the fool?  Certainly.  Did he want to?   Here was a chance to repay an old debt, and release himself from his purgatory of a life – simply through inaction.  Could he still be that selfless?

    Another jab from behind.

    A single gunshot marked the assassin’s decision.

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